How Stress is Carried for Generations - Ayurveda | Everyday Ayurveda

How Stress is Carried for Generations

By on January 31, 2017

Reprinted with permission from Dr. John Douillard, DC © October 11, 2014

According to Ayurveda, physical, behavioral, mental and emotional traits can be carried from one generation to the next. If mom or dad carries a specific childhood stress, the associated behavior traits can be passed on for generations. These are called samskaras, which are imprints carried to offspring.

According to the Hinduism Dictionary, samskaras are defined as:

An impression, or under the impulse of previous impressions. The imprints left on the subconscious mind by experience in this or previous lives, which then color all of life, one’s nature, responses, states of mind.

Today, new studies are beginning to understand how these traits may in fact be carried generationally.

Here is how it works: While the environment and behavior rarely change the DNA sequence of a gene, they can cause epigenetic changes (samskaras) in the regulation, or the expression, of the gene.

Passed Down Stress

A 2014 study showed that when young male mice were stressed, their behavior was affected as adults. The stressed mice were resistant to explore new environments and gave up more quickly when given a challenging task. (1) When sperm from these stressed out males were injected to fertilized eggs, the offspring exhibited the same behaviors, without the dad having any parental contact. (1)

In another study, rodents were trained to fear the smell of peppermint before they became pregnant. When the offspring of these peppermint-fearing rodents were exposed to the smell of piped-in peppermint oil, the infant rodents showed the same fear. Remember, the fear of peppermint oil was recorded in the memory of the mother before pregnancy, suggesting that the infant carries this impression, or peppermint samskara, from the mother prior to fertilization. (2)

The newest research is suggesting that stressful behavior is passed on through generations. These stressors alter the expression of genes without changing the DNA sequence. Scientists are suggesting that, if you have a grandparent that lived through heavy stress, such as the Great Depression, certain behavioral gene expressions may be turned on or off for generations, affecting the way you handle stress and/or behave. (2)

Understanding how inherited fears, stressors or samskaras can affect the health and behavior of an individual for generations was fundamental in the Ayurvedic road map of health. Interestingly, we are only now beginning to understand the subtlety and profundity of epigenetics.

Reversing Epigenetic Traits & Samskaras

Reversing these epigenetic traits is also described in Ayurveda. One of the most powerful tools used to enhance self-awareness and make deep epigenetic samskaras is the practice of meditation and breathing. While meditation boosts awareness, it is not a complete therapy unless it is followed up with action-steps. Action based on heightened awareness changes negative neural patterns in the brain. The goal of Ayurveda is to be free of old negative emotional patterns that impact health, happiness and longevity. It is in this way – with emphasis on the importance of reflection and self-awareness – that Ayurveda described the removal of samskaras imprinted in our DNA from our childhood or parent’s childhood as possible.

I developed the Transformational Awareness Technique to teach people, not only how to be successful meditators, but how to take transformational action-steps based on the heightened awareness that meditation offers. Most meditation practices leave out what I believe to be the most important step – being guided through how to take an awareness-based action-step. It is the action that lays down new neural pathways in the brain and frees you from old emotional patterns and behavioral samskaras.


  1. Nature Neuroscience 17, 667–669 (2014) doi:10.1038/nn.3695
  2. Published online before print July 28, 2014, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1316740111 PNAS August 19, 2014 vol. 111 no. 33 12222-12227 maternal fear
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About Dr John Douillard

Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP, is a globally recognized leader in the fields of natural health, Ayurveda, and sports medicine. He is the creator of, the leading Ayurvedic health and wellness resource on the web. is evolving the way Ayurveda is understood around the world, with over 700 articles and videos proving ancient wisdom with modern science. Dr. John is the former Director of Player Development for the New Jersey Nets NBA team, author of 6 books, a repeat guest on the Dr. Oz show, and featured in Woman’s World Magazine, Huffington Post, Yoga Journal and dozens of other publications. He directs LifeSpa, the 2013 Holistic Wellness Center of the year, in Boulder, CO. For more information visit

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